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January 26, 2024Sells, AZ, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

Leader of human smuggling organization pleads guilty to conspiracy to transport noncitizens for profit following HSI Sells investigation

SELLS, Ariz. – A Honduran national pleaded guilty Jan. 24 to conspiracy to transport noncitizens for profit. Special agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Sells investigated the case.

Sentencing for Maria Mendoza-Mendoza aka “La Guera,” 51, of Honduras, is scheduled for April 2 before U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins.

Mendoza-Mendoza admitted that she was a leader of a smuggling organization that smuggled over 100 migrants from Honduras into the United States and that, as a leader, she coordinated human smuggling and money laundering events.

Mendoza-Mendoza admitted she told a co-conspirator she would “bleed out” a guide as punishment and that she said that a migrant whose family did not pay his fee would be thrown “back in the desert.” She also admitted that the organization used firearms and that the smuggling involved dangerous risks to the migrants. The government of Honduras extradited Mendoza-Mendoza to the United States in June 2023 to face these charges. A conviction for this crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The prosecution resulted from Joint Task Force Alpha’s (JTFA) coordinated efforts. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is part of JTFA, which was established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021 to marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The task force focuses on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona in Tucson handled the prosecution.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.